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ALADDIN (2019)
"It's not bad, but won't displace its predecessor."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "A remake of "Aladdin"? Sure, why not. It's been a generation, and even if the point of these movies is for Disney to continue to exploit their catalog in an era where re-releases and home video don't bring in close to what they used to, sometimes it becomes interesting. It's not so much the case here; like most of these live-action cover versions, I'll probably never watch this again while the original is also on my shelf, but it's not exactly a waste of time even if it's not the only family-friendly option at the local theater." (more)
"Kenneth Branagh's latest Shakespeare film is a bit different from the rest."
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It is unlikely that any actor or director working today is as broadly associated with the works of William Shakespeare as Kenneth Branagh, and as a result it is both natural and kind of weird for him to make a movie where he plays the Bard himself - there are horror stories about obsessed fans that start this way! For better or worse, the most off-putting thing about "All Is True" is that, for someone who has consistently found ways to defy the popular idea that Shakespeare's plays are stodgy and archaic, it's almost shocking how dull this movie is. Neither he nor anybody else involved manages to find an angle that brings this story to life." (more)
"Not quite the strange tale it initially seems to be."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It looks like the makers of "Fugue" are going for horror at first, both from the creepy animated titles and the initial tendency to spring hostility on the audience when most will expect something else. It'd be an exciting, against-expectations gambit if director Agnieszka Smoczynska hadn't previously made "The Lure" (a horror-tinged period mermaid musical that was genre-confounding in a different way), but still has exciting potential. It ends up going in a different direction, and while the sincerity it embraces is laudable, it proves to be a somewhat harder path to walk." (more)
"An unusual but fascinating outer-space epic."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "The opening credits describe "Aniara" as based on a "space epos" and a line or two at the end seem to call back to the old Viking Sagas, although it is very pointedly not a tale of thrilling adventure. It doesn't quite revel in mundanity or despair, but instead plugs away with a combination of practicality and despair, eventually finding a balance between the two that is much better than one might expect." (more)
"More of the same, but the same is pretty good."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "If you've enjoyed the first two "John Wick" movies, you'll almost certainly enjoy the third - this series still brings the stylish, astonishingly-staged violence better than most anybody else has since the last time John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat got together. It's definitely starting to get a little stretched, though, like the makers are a bit too aware of the franchise's status as an unlikely hit and developing a tendency to wink at themselves. "Parabellum" still plays its world of assassins just seriously enough to work as both intriguing and an excuse to enjoy the mayhem, but it's right on the edge of implosion, and may not be able to pull it off much longer." (more)
"Maybe not what you expect, but certainly something to see."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It's a tough competition to be seen for movies outside the mainstream these days, but "Long Day's Journey into Night" has certainly racked up ways to pique one's curiosity by the time it reached America: For some, just being the new film by the maker of "Kaili Blues" was going to be enough, although the good reviews on the festival circuit and the fact that it included a 59-minute tracking shot in non-post-converted 3D didn't hurt. Then, on New Year's Eve, it had the biggest-ever opening of an art-house movie in China - and on New Year's Day, one of the harshest popular backlashes! Even if you get beyond all that, you've got a film that is unlikely to be forgotten, generally for the best of reasons." (more)
"Beautiful and bloody."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Zhang Yimou's "Shadow" is probably the most visually striking wuxia film since "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", so striking that when it gets off to a bit of a halting start, one might be tempted to consider that an acceptable trade-off for just being able to look at the thing for a couple hours. That it would quickly becomes more was not guaranteed, but it does, offering up palace intrigue an spurts of action that make it one of the best films that the genre has produced in recent years." (more)
"Impressive from the start."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "There's a montage in this movie where a bunch of filmmakers confess that they hadn't heard of Alice Guy-Blaché before (with one notable exception because of course Ava DuVernay knows who has been overlooked), and I must admit that I'd only heard her name a few times before, as one of a number of examples in a different documentary about how women's contribution to cinema was historically underrepresented. And while "Be Natural" would be useful even if it was just about drilling down into something known generally, it's also an intriguing look at early cinema and how we've been unable to shake issues from a century ago." (more)
"Bunco Flop!"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Once upon a time—1964 to be exact—there emerged a film by the name of “Bedroom Story,” a comedy starring David Niven and Marlon Brando as a couple of con artists in the French Riviera—one suave and decidedly posh in his targets and the other cruder and more low-rent (take a wild guess as to who played who)—competing against each other to swindle an American heiress (Shirley Jones) to prove which of them was the best at their rarefied position. To be frank, it was not especially amusing—the humor too often leaned heavier on crudity than sophistication—and the only thing keeping it from falling into complete obscurity is the decidedly bizarre spectacle of Marlon Brando—one of the greatest actors of all time but one not exactly famous, especially at that time, for his light comedic touch—trying and largely failing to prove himself as a farceur. Nearly a quarter-century later, “Bedtime Story” was dusted off and remade as the 1988 comedy “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” with Michael Caine in the David Niven part and Steve Martin following in Brando’s footsteps. Although the screenplay was virtually identical to the extremely uneven original, the resulting film proved to be better than it had any right to be thanks to the slick staging of the material by director Frank Oz and the expert byplay between Caine, Martin and the late Glenne Headly as their winsome target. Now, thirty years after that, the same plot, plus a gender flip for the main characters, has been revived for the screen for a third time with “The Hustle” and after watching this iteration, students of the various versions will find themselves longing for the comparative dignity of the original “Bedroom Story.” Although the notion of doing a female-centric take on this material sounds like a promising idea in theory, it turns out that other than the change in pronouns, most everything else has remained basically the same and the whole thing winds up having all the wit, energy and fizz of a not-incredibly-funny joke being told for a third time." (more)
"One Guy, A Girl And A Pikachu"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "In one of the many hilarious bits in the 1933 Marx Brothers classic “Duck Soup,” wacky dictator Rufus T. Firefly is handed a Treasury report and announces “Clear Why a four-year-old child could understand this report” before turning to his aide and remarking “Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail out of it.” I found myself thinking about that line a lot while watching “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” for a couple of reasons. For one thing, as someone whose exposure to the entire Pokemon phenomenon over the years has been limited at best (someone tried to explain it to me once and got grumpy when I mentioned that it sounded a little too close to slavery for its own good), i concede that there are no doubt numerous aspects to the proceedings that would be best appreciated or at least understood by those with a greater working knowledge of the subject at hand. For another, since the film at hand was doing absolutely nothing to entertain or amuse me with its slapdash antics, why not let the mind drift to an authentically entertaining film in the way that a drowning man might yearn for a life vest? Alas, even that was not enough to help pass the time with this strenuously annoying film, a hard-sell spectacle that clearly yearns to be the next “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” but only winds up being the next “Space Jam” and just so that there is no confusion in the matter, that is most decidedly NOT a compliment." (more)

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